Tokyo(From Yokohama) - Port Guide
Tokyo is huge and futuristic, and ancient, and wonderful, and has so many things to do and areas to visit, that it is utterly impossible to see much of it in one day. If you are joining the ship are crew or guest in Yokohama, then if possible, arrive at least a week early to see a lot more of what it has to offer. Yokohama and Kamakura both deserve at least a day each, apart from actual Tokyo. One of the world’s largest, and most populated city for its size, there are so many delights awaiting you. I won’t even have scratched the surface here with my tips either, but I will try to get a decent amount of info in on things that aren’t too tricky to get to when you only have one day from the ship. I’m only writing about the places I have been to make sure I am always giving you straight from the horse’s mouth experienced information.
Where is the ship/how to get to the sights?
- The ship docks about 15 minutes walk from the train station of Nihon-Odori, Yokohama where you start your journey to Tokyo.
- You walk straight along the pier to the start of the city, follow the map across the street, round the corner, to where Nihon-Odori train station is. There is also a shuttle that takes you from the ship to Minatomirai Station, which is a bit closer to Yokohama station. This is free and leaves every 30 minutes. However, it wont be there for coming back, only runs for the morning, so I personally think its easier overall to walk to Nihon-Odori so you know what the closest station looks like from the start, and know how to walk back to the ship and get your bearings rather than going to a totally different station each direction.
- From Nihon-Odori, take the train to Yokohama central station.
- Then when you arrive in Yokohama station. Then take the train to Tokyo. You can take the train from here directly to Shibuya, the first stop in main Tokyo, or to Ueno station. The fast train to Shibuya takes 25 minutes, leaves every 15 minutes. There are slower trains that stop at more stops and take an hour, so try to get the fast train if possible. This is a good starting off point where you can see the legendary Shibuya Crossing, then take local subway trains around the city from here.
- If you want to go to Ueno Park, area, or Tokyo Fish Market, then take the train straight to Ueno instead. As with Shibuya, there are fast and slower trains with fewer stops, so try to get the fast one. This is always indicated by a yellow sign in italics.
- Once in the main Tokyo subway system (from Shibuya onwards), you can take cheap subways throughout the city to wherever you wish to go. Trains are fast, and quite cheap, and always on time, but just take time to read the maps before getting on them and ask conductors in stations or locals if you need any help.
Winter Oct-Feb cold 5-12 degrees Celsius, with snow possible Nov-Feb. Spring: Mar-May 10-18 degrees. Summer: 15-25 degrees. Rain possible year round.
Sights & Sites
- Harajuku – Possibly the coolest area in Tokyo, this is a fun and funky area where during the day the quirky and creative teens of Tokyo go to see and be seen. Check out the bridge where you can see people dressed up just for the fun of it to take photos with passers by. This is the home of the Harajuku girls! Takeshita Street is the centre point, and it comes alive from around 11am until late. Stores selling clothes that could only be from Japan (see my photo of my hoodie I bought there below) are abound in “Harajuku style”. Food places with candy floss, ramen joints, and ice cream cute parlours abound and a nice park too. (See Takeshita Street Map 1 & 2 below).
- Tokyo National Museum – Situated in Ueno Park, the Tokyo National Museum is made up of several buildings all home to different collections of art. The main buildings are made up of the Toyokan, Honkan and Heiseikan. Toyokan (Asian) Gallery is home to art and artefacts from around Asia, Honkan (my pick if you only have time for one) has highlights of Japanese art, Heiseikan building houses Japanese Archaology and special exhibitions. The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, Koroda Memorial Hall and Hyokeikan (currently temporarily closed), are also nice to see if you have more time. Ueno Park is beautiful, especially in spring time when it is the sakura festival, and even in the rain (as it rained when I was there). You can reach this by taking the subway to Ueno station, or at Toyko Metro Nezu Station by the west gate.
- Imperial Palace – The Tokyo Imperial Palace is free to go in, but you have to either book your tickets in advance online, or wait in line in the morning to see if there are spaces on the tour. The tour is always in Japanese, so having a guidebook with you to read about what you’re seeing as you walk around. Check times tours leave online before you arrive so as not to be disappointed as times change on different days. Booking your spot online if you can is best to guarantee a space, and definitely worth it.
- Tsukijo Fish Market – This is Tokyo’s largest fish market and is THE place to go for sushi and sahimi lovers. I am a huge seafood fan, and this is where I ate the best sashimi I have ever had. Wander around and choose what you’d like to try. Arrive hungry as you will want to sample everything. As far as I’m concerned, you cant really go wrong here, and I don’t imagine it being possible to choose a bad spot, but the places that have huge lines are always a good choice. ‘Cagi’, oysters, which are steamed in their shells in front of you are a delicious choice, as is soft tuna sashimi in a bowl with sticky rice. ‘Saba’, mackerel, hot and wrapped in foil, is another tasty treat which melts in your mouth.
- Shibuya Crossing – This is the iconic crossroads in Japan, where the traffic is dumbfounding, yet no one ever seems to get flustered or hurt and crosses with ease. The trick apparently, is to stride with confidence and keep up with the locals in suits then all will be well. You can get great photos above the crossing from the top of the train station building. Actually walking over the crossing is something you must do at least once while in the area. Get off the subway, or the first stop in from Yokohama, at Shibuya Station, then simply walk outside to find it.
- The Ginza – This is the westerner’s most favoured and famous street. The first street in Tokyo to be westernized, it is the home of a plethora of fancy up market shops and high end fashion is here, along with a few restaurants, bars and fancy coffee shops. Get off the subway at Ginza stop.
There is shopping everywhere! Whatever you like you will find in Tokyo. Go to the area matching in style the type of souvenirs or wares you’d like and you wont go wrong. For example, if you want quirky very Japanese things, Harajuku is your place. If you you’d like up market fancy things, Ginza is your spirit shopping street. If you’d like seafood (vacuum packed and sealed smoked and safe to travel) to take home, Tsukiji Market is your best bet. If you’d like typical tourist stuff, the small market side streets off Shibuya are a great choice.
What is it known for?
Edo was the capital of Japan for centuries, before it turned into Tokyo just over a hundred years ago. It is known for being the most technologically advanced, most densely populated, and busy city in the world. It has everything you could ever want, culture, history, shopping, the arts, museums, galleries, parks, castles, is a shopping mecca, and a foodie’s paradise.
Food & Drink
There is incredible food and drink everywhere in Tokyo. The epitome for me was tuna sashimi, mackerel and oysters in Tsukiji Fish Market. I enjoyed tasty ramen in Harajuku. My desert pick was the Japanese take on the delicate French desert Mont Blanc. This came over to Japan in the 1970s and became fashionable, and Japan added its own flavor to it. It is a heavenly mix of delicately piped layers of chestnut puree on top of a merengue and light fluffy cake inside. The place to eat this is in ‘Etude House’ which is on Ginza, and is by all accounts the best Mont Blanc in Japan. I had it and while I haven’t tried Mont Blanc in all the other places in Japan, I would certainly not dispute this title.
Free Wi-Fi is available in all museums, palaces, and in many cafes, restaurants and bars.
There are many ATMs throughout the city, as well as Bureau de Changes on most large streets. All banks will exchange currencies for a reasonable rate.
Karen’s Top Tip
It is simply not possible to do justice to Tokyo and all it’s splendor in one day. If you are joining the ship as crew or a guest here, try to come a week early at least to take in as much as you can of the city and surrounding area. If not, read up on the city and make a list of the things you most want to see ranked by order of preference. Then check the subway map to see which attractions are closest to each other so you can fit in the most sights, starting with your favorite. If the things you want to see are far apart anyway, start with the area that speaks to you the most (for example, I have just had a thing about Harajuku for years so started there), then either enjoy that area fully for the day, or go there, enjoy it for a set amount of time, then move to the next until you run out of time. Eating at fast places saves time, such as in the fish market as it has a constant high turnover or eaters, you can’t stay long, even if you want to.
My experience here
I have thus far, spent 3 days in Tokyo. I took my own advice and concentrated on different areas each time.
- The first time here I went to Harajuku.
I had a rehearsal on the ship at 1pm, so had to do a fast dash early in the morning. My first stop was Harajuku becuase I have been fascinated with it for a long time. I followed the subway map and went straight there, and walked along Takeshita Street taking in the sights. I arrived a bit earlier than a lot of things were open to be honest, but it was still wonderful. I looked at and bought a real Harajuku hoodie, complete with bright dinosaurs on it and spikes on the hood. I then had tasty ramen in a basement restaurant, wandered around the street looking at the weird and wonderful things, and then had to head back to the ship.
- My second stop in Tokyo was made up of Tsukiji Fish Market, Uneno Park, and Tokyo National Museum.
I made a beeline for the Tsukiji Fish Market. I looked around the whole market and sampled as much fish as my stomach could hold, then headed out to Ueno Park. Here I walked around the beautiful park, which is when I had my first sighting of the famous sakura – cherry blossoms. It was raining, but still magical, and the park in itself is a lovely place to visit. I then heard before I saw, music, coming from inside the Research and Information Centre. There was a music festival of classical music on this week in Tokyo, and part of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra was performing a lunchtime concert! We went around to the door to enquire about the vague possibility of getting a ticket, and were told the concert is free and everyone is welcome to attend! Obviously, that is what we did, and the music and whole set up was just wonderful. Tokyo, and Japan in general puts a lot of time into the arts and bringing music and art to the people in the form of many festivals throughout the country from the start of Spring until the end of summer and many of the concerts offered are free to attend. After the concert we went in to the 3 main buildings of the Tokyo National Museum, and enjoyed the art.
- My third day in Tokyo consisted of The Imperial Palace, Mont Blanc in the Ginza, and Shibuya.
We headed first out to the Imperial Palace thinking we’d only be able to take photos of it from outside. We were very lucky and arrived 15 minutes before a tour was departing, and there was space on it! The tour is always in Japanese, so bring your guidebook or a Japanese-speaking friend to help you understand it all. You are provided with a free map in English of the Palace and its surroundings though, so you have at least some info on there. There is even free Wi-Fi in the waiting room you are taken to just before the tour starts, bathrooms and vending machines with coffee, soft drinks and snacks. The Japanese are always courteous to a fault, even when providing you with a very interesting free tour! I felt very lucky and privileged to have gotten to see inside the grounds and it was really worth going. Next stop was the Ginza. Not to shop in Gucci or Armani (not on a cruise ship musician’s salary!) but to sample the famous Mont Blanc desert I’d heard of. It was incredible (more on it in the Food and Drink section). Then we headed to Shibuya to see what all the fuss was about. We took a lift to the top of the train station tower first, which overlooks the famed crossing and saw a sprawling mass of ant-looking things, which were people bustling off to work in every direction. Afterward, we went down to actually cross it, taking the advice to walk tall and confidently and took our selfies very quickly. It was really cool to see, and you don’t need to spend much time here, it is mostly a stare and photo op. Then it was time to head home.
My Most Memorable Moment
This is a tough place to decide this on. My first impression of Tokyo came in walking around the quirky, oh-so-Japanese Harajuku, that I had been so excited to see, and it was just fantastic. The Tsukiji Fish Market gave me the best sashimi I have ever had. While around the grounds of the Imperial Palace was a real treat, and seeing my first Japanese cherry blossom in Ueno Park was really a magical moment. So, one of those. All of those!
Nick and I adventuring all over Japan trying as many delicious Japanese dishes as possible.